By Richard Rhinehart
Frederick, Maryland, April 28, 2012 – Leading Face of America participants in cheers for their favorite military service branch, Sgt. Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia of the Marine Corps sent the nearly 500 riders on their way this morning with good will and a deep understanding that supporting and welcoming our military veterans, including those with disabilities, back into society is a long and honored tradition.
Standing before the colorfully-clothed riders in an outer parking lot for the Pentagon, Sgt. Maj. Battaglia, the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, echoed comments made the prior evening by Lieutenant General Richard P. Mills, the Deputy Commandant for Combat Development and Integration. At the keynote speech for World T.E.A.M. Sports’ annual ride honoring wounded warriors from Washington to Gettysburg, Lieutenant General Mills encouraged participants to remember that people like Corporal Jim “Seamus” Garrahy, the non-profit’s longtime Gettysburg benefactor who passed in January, provide a legacy of public service and commitment that is handed down from generation to generation. Be they veterans of World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, or the more recent Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, each individual has offered their best in support of their country.
In working with disabled veterans, World T.E.A.M. Sports helps improve the lives of these veterans, as well as create opportunities for the general public to learn more about the commitment and sacrifices these soldiers, sailors and airmen and women make in the line of duty.
Riding by the Pentagon, in a rare opportunity to cycle through Fort Meyer, Face of America participants could consider the sacrifices of their riding colleagues, as well as those individuals who have given their lives to protect their nation. Passing the iconic Iwo Jima Memorial, the riders on their bicycles, hand cycles and recumbents could understand that freedom does have a price.
Fortunately, weather for the April 28 ride was better than the last two years, which included stifling heat one year and torrential downpours and tornadoes the next. This year, sunny morning skies over Washington gave way to scattered clouds that thickened throughout the day as the riders headed north. The clouds dropped light rain on the riders for a few minutes, but never grew threatening. Though temperatures were chilly, the dry roads led to safe, timely travel that allowed the group to arrive in the northern Maryland city of Frederick nearly an hour ahead of schedule.
As in past years, along the route, local residents turned out in support of the riders. With signs, cheers and shouted words of encouragement, the supporters helped sometimes tired riders sit higher in their seats and peddle on. In steep sections of the route, long lines of weekend traffic grew as riders negotiated the sometimes punishing grades. Perhaps owing to the plentiful American flags that lined the route, hung from bicycles and adorned rider clothing, the majority of motorists kept their cool and waited patiently for the group to crest the hill or turn onto less-traveled side roads.
Raising over $400,000 to support the participation of wounded warriors, and for upcoming World T.E.A.M. Sports events like this summer’s Sea to Shining Sea ride from San Francisco to Virginia Beach, the participating teams and individuals of Face of America include active service members, retired military, wounded warriors and civilians. Although many of the participants are from the Maryland/DC/Virginia/eastern Pennsylvania region, riders traveled from 26 states as distant as California, Montana, Texas and Florida. All are passionate about the inclusive event, which began in 2000 as a cross-country ride with teams meeting in Saint Louis from starting points on the east and west coasts.
The Face of America ride concludes on Sunday, April 29, as the riders travel north from Frederick to the historic battlefields of Gettysburg. For the last time, the group will end their ride at the farm of the late Seamus Garrahy. Almost certainly, the arrival will bring a variety of emotions for the participants, particularly those who have ridden for several years.